Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Three Cheers for C-Span, Two for the Rest

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Three Cheers for C-Span, Two for the Rest

Article excerpt

Fasten your seat belt. Television's coverage of the 1992 presidential campaign deserves two cheers.

Put more precisely, the salute goes to the so-called elite segment of television--C-Span, MacNeil/Lehrer, CNN, and the networks (sometimes).

As the camera journalists, improve, they suggest where the print press might refocus its coverage.

While we watch the raunchy tabloid tv shows--those "ugly vehicles of gore and gonads," according to media critic Mark Jurkowitz--encircle the regular tv news programs, it is important to look hard at television's serious practitioners.

Take C-Span. In the New Hampshire primary, you saw Bill Clinton fielding questions from editors of New Hampshire's most thoughtful newspaper, the Keene Sentinel, not for 30 seconds but for 60 minutes.

Or you saw Paul Tsongas at a Manchester rally wind up a spirited speech and engage in a 45-minute sparring match with his audience.

These lengthy close-ups of candidates in action are giving voters the best clues to a candidate's character and thought processes under fire, far more revealing than most newspaper profiles can offer.

On Election Night, starting at 8 p.m., C-Span is the only place where the public will hear election returns non-stop.

The hitch is that the average cable viewer has no idea when C-Span runs these gems unless he or she subscribes to the network's program booklet. Too bad C-Span cannot break into TV Guide and newspaper listings.

Move onto MacNeil/Lehrer which aired every candidate's typical stump speech, no interruptions, no commentary, no adds. This on top of a steady diet of thoughtful issues analyses.

CNN deserves a nod, too, for its 4:30 p.m. Inside Politics, a show for the serious political junkie. It is terrific on content and analysis, especially its tough monitoring of truth and falsehoods, in political advertising.

Except for the sharp commentary of ABC's Jeff Greenfield, the commercial gruel is relatively thin. However, they are less jumpy and more responsible than four years ago. Give the networks credit also for their share of the debates, unflashy as they were. Nightline's Ted Koppel did legitimatize the deflowering of Bill Clinton for the straight media--a dubious distinction.

So let's have two cheers for the upscale television and to hell with the burgeoning trash shows. And to hell with Van Gordon Sauter, the former CBS News president, who dubs critics of tabloid tv as members of the "Turgid Triangle of Imperial Journalism, a spiritual and geographical locus embracing the District of Columbia, the West Side of Manhattan, and Cambridge, Mass. …

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